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Anti-poverty Policy: The Multi-dimensional Approach

A Case from the North: Alphen aan den Rijn, physician The Netherlands

Poor households suffer from deprivation in a variety of ways. Low income, limited access to the labour market, inability to obtain loans and the tendency to cut short education are only some of the social and economic restrictions affecting poor families. All these issues are profoundly inter-related and help to perpetrate the poverty cycle. Therefore, the city of Alphen aan den Rijn has adopted a multi-dimensional approach that attempts to attack the problem on a variety of fronts. The originality of some of the mechanisms used and the extent to which many of the policies succeeded in improving the conditions of the poor in the city of Alphen, made it into a model for other Dutch cities and provides an instructive set of practices that could be adapted to the reality of other cities around the world.

Located in the centre of the triangle of Holland’s main cities – Amsterdam, Rotterdam and The Hague – the City of Alphen aan den Rijn has a population of 70,000 inhabitants. An estimated 11% of its households have an income below the poverty line, of whom a total of 900 receive social subsidies from the national government. Since March 1997, with a process of decentralisation that transferred to Dutch cities the authority and responsibility for the areas of social policy, the city of Alphen has adopted a new set of policies aimed at alleviating the conditions of its poorest citizens.

Alphen aan den Rijn began its social policy reform by commissioning an assessment of poverty and of the current support measures in the city. The assessment was carried out in broad consultation and interaction with the civil society (including representatives from women’s groups, employers, trade unions, disabled people, churches, political parties etc.). The findings of the consultation process were finalised in October 1997, and provided important conclusions for the subsequent adoption of the “Poverty Policy of the City of Alphen aan den Rijn” in March 1998. Cooperation with the central government and the Association of Dutch Municipalities was also central, as Alphen managed to achieve a good working partnership with the national authorities adopting specific tailor-made policies while at the same time interacting with the wider national dimension.

Alphen aan den Rijn’s anti-poverty policy in practice

Alphen aan den Rijn’s anti-poverty policy concentrates on the following objectives:

  1. Promoting employment creation by attracting investors;
  2. Giving the poor the opportunity of receiving loans in emergency situations;
  3. Offering debt assistance and debt problems management
  4. Helping long-term unemployed to find a job;
  5. Offering them financial support to help meet basic needs;
  6. Informing the population of the services offered.

1. Promoting Employment Creation by Attracting Investors

In order to attract business to invest in the city, the municipality of Alphen began an active campaign of promoting the city at fairs and other business events. An officer was assigned a task to attract new investors, establishing contacts with national and international companies and encouraging them to set up their business in the city. One of the major incentives provided by the city of Alphen is that of offering a large discount on real estate for those companies who agree that 50% of their employees are to be recruited among the unemployed.

The results have been encouraging- more than 30 people found jobs at a meat factory, a large electronic company, a food distributor, or a transport company which set up their operations in the City. Many of the jobs are on a part-time basis and do not require high qualifications, facilitating the appointments for the unemployed.

2. Giving the Poor the Opportunity to Receive Loans in Emergency Situations

In order to make low-income or highly-indebted families eligible for small loans the City of Alphen aan den Rijn, established a formal cooperation with a local bank. The state provides the guarantee on behalf of the poor and commits itself to using the bank as the only credit institute handling the City government’s transactions. The bank, in turn, offers special rates and good debt service repayment scheduling for the low-income families. Thus, the poor and highly indebted families could have access to credit on affordable terms.

The City administration has also opened a fund directly available for clients who may receive a loan of up to 5,000 US$ in case of individual emergency situations. The city is therefore acting as a lender of last resort helping out those sectors of the population who do not have access to traditional credit money. To date, clients have largely complied and repaid the loans as it was agreed.

3. Offering Debt Assistance and Debt Problem-Management

Helping indebted people to find a way out is the objective of the City’s debt-management-training courses. Addressing the causes of the debt problems and showing ways on how to get out of indebtedness are the central aim of these three-week courses. Participants are asked for a symbolic financial contribution to show their commitment to attending the course. To ensure sustainability, a follow-up meeting is scheduled after six months.

4. Helping Long-Term Unemployed Find a Job

Observing that some citizens encounter strong barriers in entering the regular labour market, Alphen aan den Rjin tried to design jobs that meet the needs and capabilities of the most disadvantaged groups. Rather than simply paying an unemployment benefit, the city offered to provide citizens with low-skilled jobs giving them a salary slightly above that of the unemployment benefit. The City thus created and finances its own jobs as school assistants, library assistants, police officers, gardeners or professional guards.
Employed under fairly loose contracts, most people work on a part-time basis, though some work on a full-time contract for 32 hours a week, rather than the usual 39 hours. The city itself arranged for training whenever this was necessary. The idea is that by increasing expenditure in the short-term, long-term dependency may be reduced as the formerly unemployed increase their chances of finding competitive employment opportunities. With the implementation of this scheme 40 formerly long-term unemployed found a new job in Alphen.

Day-care centres for children were also set up within the context of trying to facilitate access to the labour market for the unemployed. Particularly in the case of single-parent families, but not only, family obligations may constitute an important barrier for access to the labour market. Making use of governmental funds available for additional local initiatives in this field, the City offered single parent households places in existing day-care institutions and created a day-care centre within its own local administration. In doing so, the City helped young mothers to become (re)integrated into the labour market.

5. Offering Financial Support to Help Meet Basic Needs

The City’s innovative policies to respond to a lack of financial means of its inhabitants consists of:

  • Health Insurance Benefits: by contracting health insurance for the poor. In exchange for a modest contribution, they can get adequate medical care going beyond the very basic health-care provided to every citizen by the national government.
  • Tax relief and exemption for the poor, paid for by tax increase on higher revenues;
  • The Consumer Goods Fund which grants up to US$ 750 every three years to buy essential consumer goods. Put in place in January 1999, low-income families have the possibility of getting this sum for buying essential goods like furniture, household appliances etc;
  • The Special Benefits scheme which provides funds to pay for dental operations, glasses or other unforeseeable but necessary expenses;
  • The Reimbursement Fund, which is composed of US$ 150 000, subsidises access to cultural life. Low-income families are granted free entrance to municipal swimming pools, museums and theatres and can get a refund for a sport club membership and a newspaper subscription.

6. Informing the Population of the Services Offered

In order to enhance the use of the services provided by the city, Alphen aan den Rijn developed a communication campaign on its social policy. By means of widespread dissemination of information cards, the city managed to inform the local population more effectively about the possibilities of assistance offered by the city.

Impact

The city’s experience is an example of the successful elaboration and implementation of an innovative social policy responding to local needs. Its policy framework follows a long-term perspective, as the core elements of the city’s social policy demand additional disbursements only in the first place, but reduce the need for social allowances in the future. The Alphen aan den Rijn experience may therefore bring the inspiration for cities who are less well off.

In the case of Alphen, the funds came primarily from the national government and the city itself. Partnerships with the private sector can also be developed to reduce the costs of social policy and transfer some of the responsibilities and financial burdens to the private sector. Some of the activities carried out, however, such as offering debt assistance or offering discounts to companies as incentive for investment in the city, require very low funding and may be therefore more easily accessible for cities with tighter budgets.

The City of Alphen aan den Rijn successfully explored new competence in social affairs conveyed by the central government. One of the main elements for this achievement was a good project planning and interaction with civil society. The City succeeded in helping low-income families to make ends meet by promoting employment and fostering the reintegration of less wealthy inhabitants.

We would like to thank Mr. Frank Dales, Deputy Mayor of the City of Alphen aan den Rijn, for the information about his city’s anti-poverty policy.

For more information, please contact:

Mr. Frank Dales
Deputy Mayor of the City of Alphen aan den Rijn
P.O. Box 13, Alphen aan de Rijn 2400 AA, The Netherlands
phone: (++31) 172 481 210, fax: (++31) 172 481 591